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MiLB returns to Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium–for a day

Smith Wills Stadium

Minor League Baseball is returning to Smith-Wills Stadium, former home of the Texas League’s Jackson Mets and Jackson Generals, for an exhibition game between the Mississippi Braves (Double-A; Southern League) and the Jackson State University Tigers.

The Hank Aaron Tribute Game, set for April 5, 2023, was announced today by Tim Bennett, CEO of the Hank Aaron Sports Academy (“HASA”). The Jackson State University Tigers is a local Historically Black College and University (“HBCU”).

Bennett also announced that the net of all gate proceeds would go towards the facility’s Renovations Assistance Program (“R.A.P.”), which will focus on upgrades of local baseball parks and facilities owned by the city of Jackson. plays a big role in the local baseball scene: Jackson has seven high schools, with not one with on-campus baseball field, thus leaving those teams to play on city-owned, public, and often sub-par fields. Smith-Wills Stadium has a seating capacity of 5,200, and the ability to draw a sell-out crowd could potentially result in a capital contribution to the facility’s R.A.P. of $150,000.00 in 2023.

“Having our Mississippi Braves team compete against the Jackson State Tigers not only will provide a great exhibition for our players, but it will also be a wonderful opportunity to help raise money for a wonderful and much-needed cause,” said Ben Sestanovich, Atlanta Braves assistant general manager, player development, via press release.

SWS became the home of the Hank Aaron Sports Academy in 2021 to assist the underserved community of youth in the Jackson-Metro area as an extension and magnification of the legacy of Henry “Hank” Aaron. It has served as a home field for the seven Jackson Public School baseball teams along with summer/fall youth baseball, camps, clinics, and free programs designed to attract minority and under-served children to learn and play the game of baseball.

“We live in a world where promises are made quite frequently but go unfulfilled, so we are fortunate to have the Atlanta Braves display that they are not only World Champions on the field but also in the
community as well, by standing behind their commitment to being leaders in the game of baseball to under-privileged and often overlooked communities.” Bennett said via press release. “The state of Mississippi is known to be the poorest state in the country and is often portrayed in a negative light, but how refreshing it is to see a diverse initiative that will benefit our future leaders both on and off the field where there is an apparent lack of opportunities available at the MLB and MiLB levels.

There’s a nice tie-in with the Hank Aaron Academy: Mississippi is the host state for both the Mississippi Braves (Trustmark Park in Pearl) and the Milwaukee Brewers (MGM Park in Biloxi) MiLB teams, representing the only two MiLB franchises that Hank Aaron played for. Bennett is co-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise, the Biloxi Shuckers, and recognized as the first African-Americans to hold such a position in the history of the state of Mississippi and one of only a few active owners in the country in both MLB and MiLB, respectively.

Photo courtesy Bellhaven University Athletics.

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